F12 Hours Reviewed: Swedish House comes home to Stockholm
Reported by Stu Cox
Submitted 10-09-08 21:03
Going to a foreign country and not sampling the local culture is like going to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet without having crispy duck pancakes - as much as anything else, it's just plain rude. And what better way to sample the culture than heading out to one of the nation's best-known night spots? Stu Cox gets his Swedish dancing gear on for HarderFaster.
Visiting places like Ibiza is easy, everyone knows what the good clubs are and what's going on, but I must admit I needed a bit of advice when I decided to spend a week in Sweden. After some asking around, one name kept cropping up: Fredsgatan 12 in Stockholm, often just referred to as simply F12.
F12 is actually a Michelin-starred restaurant, apparently popular with the government officials occupying the building next door. It also boasts a lounge bar and some swanky studio apartments, but most importantly (for our purposes at least) an outdoor terrace (or "terrassen" in the native tongue) which becomes a club venue at night. The F12 Terrace regularly played host to Eric Prydz before he faced his fear of flying to travel further afield; he even named the B-side to this summer's massive anthem "Pjanoo" after the place. Names like Adam Beyer, Henrik B and Ozgur Can (as well as Phil Collins and Frankie Goes To Hollywood!) featured on their line-ups in the weeks leading up to my trip. Another band of regulars are the other members of the Swedish House Mafia and it just so happened that these three troubadours - Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello - would be the feature of the Sunday night while I was there, for an annual event they call F12 Hours. Naturally, I made it my sworn duty to attend.
The F12 Terrace by day
Normally I'm not adverse to a bit of a walk to get to where I need to be. Purely for the self-deception that it somehow constitutes my RDA of exercise and fresh air, of course. But in a city I don't know in the slightest - one where my local linguistic expertise stretches little further than the phrase "god jul" (particularly in a world where the ability to wish someone "Merry Christmas" in the middle of August is generally considered far from a useful talent) - I felt that getting lost before I even got to the venue may not be an ideal start to the evening and so I took a taxi which carried me the relatively short distance across the bridge from Lidingö (an island suburb of Stockholm) and down into the centre of the Swedish capital itself.
At the venue I handed over the 260 krona - approximately £22 - asked of me for the 5 mile cab ride. This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is quite strong evidence to support the first of two facts that everyone will tell you about this great Scandanavian nation: Sweden is expensive. We moan about how expensive life is in the UK as it is, but our poor friends over here have to deal with many things being at least twice the price they would be here in Blighty (some of the prices in the supermarkets might even lead you to believe they come with a free Fabergé egg, while stocks last). I'll come onto fact number two in a minute.
I glanced around to assess my surroundings. Ahead and to my left was the impressive stone building of the F12 complex, a bustling hive of activity with people swarming around the pavement and spilling out onto the road. Opposite it was a small grassy park overlooking the moonlit waters of the Norrström ("Northern Stream"), one of the many waterways crisscrossing their way through Stockholm.
Just so you know where you are...
Walking slowly up towards the club, carefully dodging Swedes stumbling out across the road, I looked up the grand steps separating the two large raised balconies of the terrace overlooking the park, each covered with a striking white canopy. The wide stairs were awash with people - chatting, dancing and queuing in no obvious direction.
It was at this point that I realised just how much fact number two rang true: all of the girls in Sweden are stunning. OK, that's not invariably the case; after the age of about 35 things tend to go downhill pretty quickly for the Swedes, but until then things are very promising indeed. The F12 masses were comparatively young and seemed very keen to demonstrate their nation's beauty with many adorned in impressively revealing (particularly in a city on the same latitude as the Orkney Islands) yet seemly down-to-earth attire, making it very hard not to let your eyes wander.
Along the road - and I expect for quite some distance further than that - you could hear the music pulsing out from the terrace very clearly. With no obvious attempt to block the sound from the outside world at all, everyone from the terrace to the road and right down to the waterfront must have felt immersed in this party. As we've learnt to expect from the Swedish House Mafia, deep and techy house music was the order of the day, with those familiar deep, rolling basslines and that unmistakable bounce. Pjanoo dropped just as I joined the back of the queue (we were bound to hear it at some point), which prompted a gathering of people on the edge of the park to let out a cheer while they danced along. Meanwhile, those already past the door staff and up on the terrace leaned out over the balconies to wave and shout with excitement at those of us still down below, with just about the whole queue rocking along, grins a-plenty and stray fists punching the air. These keen clubbers obviously weren't even slightly fazed by the drizzle slowly being squeezed out of the night sky, gaining aggression with each drop.
At this point, a microphone squealed briefly before echoing out with what sounded like, "Make some noise for Eric Prydz!" Could it be that the Tony Soprano of the Swedish House Mafia decided to make a surprise appearance in his beloved hometown? Or was my mind playing tricks on me, knowing that the Swedes without Prydz is like roast beef without Yorkshire puddings or Neighbours without Holly Valance? I obviously wasn't alone in my apparition, as a lad behind me wearing a blue striped shirt announced in a thick Edinburgh accent that he'd heard on the radio during the day that the Swedish master had been added to the line-up at late notice - I guessed the only way to find out was to get in there and see.
It seems it's not just the Swedish House Mafia's music that gets a bit glitchy
The time on my Swedish pay-as-you-go mobile phone hit 11 o'clock as I reached the front of the queue. The event had started some eight hours earlier but, with it going on until 3 am (suggesting that the Swedes may well be even less active than us Brits in the office on a Monday morning), I still didn't feel I was missing out. I would have liked to have been there earlier to experience afternoon clubbing Swedish style but unfortunately I couldn't be - bad weather in the Baltic Sea had left me stranded on a small island in the outer reaches of the Swedish archipelago with no electricity or running water but a hefty quantity of crayfish (which is another story altogether).
Entry required a further 200 kr (17 quid, give or take) to be levered out of my wallet. Not a bad price considering the line-up and probably close to the amount you'd expect to pay for a similar fiesta in London. Naturally, the cute blonde taking my door fee was an evident part of the marketing strategy, enticingly jigging along to the beats flowing down the stairs behind her with a cheeky-but-innocent smile. She probably could have persuaded me to hand over my whole wallet with little effort. This all added to the feeling of entering some sort of exclusive paradise, certainly not the kind of warmth you tend to experience on a typical night out in Brixton.
I was finally in and working my way up the steps. At the top, quite organised queues of people shuffled in either direction towards the two terrace areas either side of the stairs, pausing and resuming intermittently - you could almost imagine sets of traffic lights at either end. Others just accepted their fate and held their ground, nodding and shaking themselves to the beats while trying to save their drinks from the perils of people brushing past. The right hand terrace contained the DJ booth (and hence the main dancefloor), but at this point overcrowding was evidently becoming a bit of an issue so bouncers were starting to tell people to go back the other way, so I headed to the left.
Axwell gets down at F12
Up on the left hand terrace it was also totally packed - the old sardine analogy comes to mind. Moving around was difficult, certainly not helped by elbows flying out as every individual tries to capture the crunchy grooves in their own way; the Swedes aren't known for their courtesy in such situations. I just about made it to the bar when the classic keyboards of Robin S' 1997 classic Show Me Love dropped in and the place totally erupted. Hands flew into the air, contented clubbers cheered and whooped and the bar staff bashed the canopies overhead - which had by now collected a sizeable reservoir of rainwater - causing a wet cascade around the terrace.
Was Prydz there? Wasn't he? "One, two, three! In the place to be! As it is plain to see! He is DJ Run and I am DMC..." - the inevitable Bodyrox bassline dropped in the very popular bootleg we've heard all over the place in the last few months, possibly putting a nail in the coffin of the Eric Prydz rumour - surely he wouldn't stoop that low! Never the less, another explosion of happy faces, cheering and drinks getting spilt everywhere followed.
A short while later I made it over to the right hand terrace surprisingly easily, but getting anywhere near the booth was going to be a serious challenge, even though it was less than 50 feet away. An LCD screen was clearly visible above the small DJ booth in the corner, flicking through graphics of The Three Muskateers of the official line-up: Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso. The atmosphere on this terrace was electric. Every bassline got cheers and claps and every breakdown had just about every hand in the air. I think I can honestly say it's been a while since I've seen an atmosphere like it in a club. But then this was obviously no ordinary club, I thought as a crowdsurfer rolled overhead. Alas, as far as I could tell there was no Prydz after all, but it really didn't matter - the other three were doing a sterling job and if anything the rumours served well to cast a mist of anticipation into the air.
Mr Angello with his name in lights
I had a look over the balcony, across the grass to the water. There was still a considerable congregation on the green, waving up at the packed terrace. Turning back to the beats behind me, as far as I could tell the three of them were simply taking it in turns for mixes, so it was hard to attribute musical triumphs or failures, but several tracks still ring out in my memory of the night. One such work was a very "Swedish House" tune - the beat, the bassline, the percussion - it was all very familiar - but the hook, line and sinker was a gritty synth which rose and fell (as did the people on the terrace dancing to it, in near perfect synchronicity), before suddenly dropping into warbling bassline. I wish I could tell you what it was called, but I suspect it was a novel creation by whichever Swede played it, so it may well emerge on many a dancefloor over the coming months.
There are certain classic tracks which always make me cringe when I hear them used in a new track - probably because anyone who tries to revamp them usually has about as much success as Marilyn Manson would with a 5-disc box set collection of lullabies. Faithless' timeless classic (Insomnia, of course) is in that number. So, despite the bedlam going on around me, when Maxi Jazz's oh-so-familiar voice came in, my face turned from that of Tiny Tim receiving the news that Ebeneezer Scrooge's reformed generosity meant he no longer had to endure a slow and painful death at a young age, to resemble that of a witness to the World Chalkboard Scratching Championship finals. However to my surprise, with the accompanying biting elastic rhythms, it worked. It really worked. So when those all too important chords dropped in I was moving as much as before with a grin which would suggest I'd just eaten a banana sideways. A bit of searching back at the flat revealed that this was probably the Rene Amesz & Peter Gelderbloom mix from last year (apparently an Axwell favourite) - something I evidently managed to miss at the time but it certainly did the business at F12.
So with all these memories in my head on the way home, I felt I should get them down in ink to chronicle one of the more unique nights I've had out and about. You'd never see a club in the UK free to pour its house beats upon the neighbouring streets and nor would you see so many beautiful people under one roof (I've always noticed that in UK clubs each stunner seems to be accompanied by someone equally and oppositely (un)attractive, presumably to balance some kind of cosmic average).
Back at the flat 24 hours on, I'm still buzzing from the people, the atmosphere and just how cool the venue itself was. We salute you, Stockholm, for your services to clubbing. I seriously hope I'll get another chance to grace the steps and stone terraces of F12 with my dancing shoes again in the not too distant future.
Photos courtesy of Stu Cox. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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Other Features By Stu Cox:
Fine-tune your sets with some Harmonic Mixing: Part Two
Fine-tune your sets with some Harmonic Mixing: Part One
Mike Foyle Breaks Out for Electronic Sessions
Everyone Wants Free Records: an interview with musical genius Louk
The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.